My phone springs into life, reciting that beloved anthem: “The heart of St Pauli, in Hamburg, that’s my hometown, where I belong. The harbour, the lights, the longing that accompany the ship out into the distance…” It was a number I didn’t recognise but I answered. “Servus, hullo,” said the voice on the other end of the line. My heart sank as I recognised the distinctive tenor of a southerner. “It’s Robin from GRAN FONDO. Get ready, Ben is coming to Hamburg the day after tomorrow. He’s never been to your city on the River Elbe. Show him around. Bring some mates. Clean your bike and shave your legs. Servus.” He ended the call with the same southern intonation that made me shudder.
Now I had to think. What should you show someone who has never been to Hamburg? The usual stuff? Expected sights, or better still, unexpected places? The Reeperbahn? The other river, the Alster? The Michel church? Too boring, right. Especially on a bike. Let’s do something totally different.
Riding group alerted, Festka polished, legs evidently left unshaven for many reasons, including but not limited to the fact that I was trying to stick to a fairly tight schedule.
Joined by Ben, we headed off towards the notorious Waseberg in Blankenese. Most people know it as the decisive point in the annual Cyclassics race, with a gradient ramped up to 16% for most of it. Sounds doable, and it is doable, especially because this little ‘mountain’ is just 300 metres in length. Issues only arise when you’ve got to ride it eight times to nail a certain photo. Thanks, Ben.
Legs heavy with lactate, we drop down to the shores of the Elbe to spot ships. Despite living in Hamburg, this never gets boring. A brief stop, then back up through Blankenese’s Treppenviertel district. A quaint Hamburg edition of the Elb d’Huez that is fit for any postcard.
On the hunt for a KOM, we pedal down the Elbchaussee towards the harbour, towards Hamburg’s infamous fish market, towards the locals’ favourite snack Fischbrötchen, or fish in a bread roll. Without a digestion tablet to hand and still more kilometres to ride, it’s fair to say that a Fischbrötchen probably isn’t advised. Naturally we paid no attention to this advice and tucked in eagerly with greasy fingers as we stalked tourists along the jetty with Mickey Mouse bow ties. In the background the dulcet tones of Hans Albers sang out. Could there be a better introduction to the city than this?
Continuing the tourist theme, they are unavoidable as you drop 24 metres below the river to cross from Hamburg to Steinwerder. Tread carefully as they swarm the other side of the river too, selfie sticks in hand. But pick your spot and you’ll get an amazing view of the jetties, too many church towers to count, and the Elbphilharmonie opera house. Take your own subtle selfie, then move on quickly. Or not, first, you’ve got to fix that puncture.
But now back on the bike in the direction of the container port. This huge, sprawling plot of land between Wilhelmsburg and Norderelbe has a certain, overriding charm that knocks out any grand thoughts of yours. The container towers possess a strange industrial magnetism. I kind of like it. It isn’t the sort of territory where you’ll hear Hans Albers, but it certainly lets your thoughts stray. La Paloma has the right sort of vibe: “When the storm wind sings its song, there’s the great freedom of happiness waving.”
At the end of our tour we’d got one highlight left in store for Ben. We rode over the Elbbrücken bridge and along the Stadtdeich embankment into the Hafencity. Reportedly Europe’s biggest construction site, this means there’s a brand new cityscape virtually every day. Just like the geometric lines of the Oberhafenbrücke, Hamburg’s architectural evolution ticks all the hipster photo boxes.
It remains to be seen whether we delivered the sort of Hamburg guide that Ben had been expecting or not. Whatever. It was great day in the saddle for all of us that confirmed exactly why we live in what we consider the world’s most beautiful city. And Ben? Well, we didn’t expect to convert him in one day but it appears that he’s now hankering after a Hamburg home. We will cheers to that in true Hamburg style with beer and Korn shots! If Robin wants another ride recommendation from me, then I’ll be happy to shave my legs. Provided he meets certain conditions. Or something. We’ll see. Cheers!
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Words: Stefan Trocha Photos: Benjamin Topf